Concertinas and accordions are complicated-looking instruments. Watching an expert play them is bewildering and impressive, as their fingers nimbly hop between the unlabeled tiny keys and their hands rhythmically work the bellows. Concertinas are a lot simpler than they seem at first, but it does take time to become familiar with the locations of all the notes. The Hohner D40 concertina is an Anglo-German style 20-button instrument in the key of G/C, and producing notes on it is quite simple. Familiarizing yourself with the basic operation allows you to focus on more important things, like learning songs.
Undo the black straps on either side of the bellows. There are two straps on either end for your hands and two straps running horizontally along the sides of the concertina. These straps on the side must be unbuttoned so you can work the bellows.
Place your fingers inside the straps on either end. The straps are adjustable. Your thumb is not inserted through the strap, and your right thumb should fall near to the single white button beside the silver grill design on the end. This button is the “air key,” which allows air to move through the bellows without a note being played.
Press one of the buttons on the side of the concertina and gently expand or contract the bellows. A note will sound as you do this. This is the basic operation of the concertina, and is physically all that is needed to play music. To produce pleasant music, however, you need to learn about which notes you are producing.
Play bass notes with the left hand. The left side of the concertina is the bass side, and the lower notes are the ones that make up the top row. The right side has the higher, melody notes, as well as the easily identifiable “air key.”
Study a diagram of the notes produced by a 20-key concertina. (See Resources) Each key produces two separate notes, depending on the direction of the air flow. This is similar to the operation of a harmonica, but instead of blowing and sucking, you are expanding and contracting the bellows. The top left key on the left hand side of the instrument produces a C note when the bellows are being contracted (when you are pushing), and a G when the bellows are being expanded (when you are pulling). You can play a simple polka-style bass-line in the key of C by pressing the button and rhythmically working the bellows back and forth.
Lee Johnson has written for various publications and websites since 2005, covering science, music and a wide range of topics. He studies physics at the Open University, with a particular interest in quantum physics and cosmology. He's based in the UK and drinks too much tea.